From a Child's Point of View
Gospel: John 20:1-18 or Mark 16:1-8. According to Mark, when the women found the tomb empty and heard what the angels said, they were not happy but frightened. According to John, Peter scratched his head and slowly walked away, Mary Magdalene sat down and cried (thinking that Jesus' body had been stolen), and only John "believed." All this skepticism makes sense to elementary-aged children who want to know "what really happened." They need to be told that nobody knows what really happened or how it happened. All we know is that Jesus was dead and buried on Friday evening, but was alive in a new way on Sunday morning. Exactly what happened and how it happened is God's secret. But we do know why it happened. Easter is God's proof that love is more powerful than selfishness, hate, and all other evils. (God would not let the evil that killed Jesus win in the end.) Easter is also God's way of showing us that we are forgiven no matter what we do.
First Reading: Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 25:6-9. In its context in Acts, Peter's sermon focuses on God's salvation of the whole world, not just Jews. In its Easter liturgy context, it is a summary of the good news about Jesus. Unfortunately, its generally stated list of categories of stories about Jesus for example, "He went about doing good and healing," is difficult for children to understand. To help them, cite specific, familiar examples in each category.
Isaiah's prophecy, with its references to obsolete mourning garb and a symbolic feast on a mountain, is beyond the understanding of children. Read it for the adults.
Psalm: 118-2, 14-24. Children will hear this psalm as a jumbled collection of praises, several of which make special sense on Easter. Verse 24 is probably the best known.
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 or Acts 10:34-43. Children can follow, but do not appreciate Paul's "Easter Creed" in I Corinthians until the setting and the meaning of each phrase is explored.
They must be reminded of Paul's story as an outsider, who, though he had met the risen Jesus, was not an eyewitness to Jesus' life on earth. He learned about what happened from others. (It helps to compare the way Paul learned the stories of Jesus' life with the way we learned the same stories, and to emphasize that we and Paul are in the same situation.)
One helpful way to translate "Christ died for our sins" for children is to say, "Christ died because of our sins." When all the sins of the disciples and Jesus' enemies are recalled, children agree that those sins caused Jesus' death. In other words, the bad that other people did hurt and killed Jesus. Similarly, the sinful things we do hurt other people and God.
In the resurrection appearances that Paul highlights, Jesus forgives. After Peter had denied that he knew Jesus, the resurrected Jesus gave him a chance to admit that he really loved Jesus, and then put him to work. After Paul persecuted the church, the resurrected Jesus appeared to him, forgave him, and sent him out as a missionary. The creed suggests to children that the resurrected Jesus is willing to forgive them also and put them to work.
Resurrection is a word used only at church and usually during Easter. So use it frequently today to build familiarity. Use it to refer to what happened to Jesus, rather than to describe what will happen to us at death.
Alleluia is another word to use frequently and to invite worshipers to use in response to the Easter story. Alleluia means "Hurray for God!"; "Look what God has done now!"; "Thank you, God"; and more.
Let the Children Sing
Both "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today!" and "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today!" follow every phrase with "Alleluia." Non-readers can join on the Alleluias. Readers will understand more of the phrases each time they sing them. The phrases of "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today!" are, however, easier.
The simple words and ideas of "Good Christians All, Rejoice and Sing!" make it child-accessible. If you are reluctant to try a possibly unfamiliar hymn on Easter Sunday, save it for another Sunday of this Easter season.
The Liturgical Child
1. Young children respond more to the mood of Easter than to its meaning. So fill the sanctuary with sparkling white and gold paraments, fresh flowers, and joyful music. Then be sure that all children participate at least briefly. There is no way to reproduce the feel of the Easter sanctuary in a classroom or children's chapel. Kindergartners may come only long enough to hear an anthem (especially if it is the "Hallelujah Chorus"). If children's choirs sing, they should spend a little time there before they sing or remain afterward, to take in the Easter sanctuary.
2. Children participate more readily in services that are held at unusual times and in unusual places. Easter suggests early morning and outside worship.
—For an early service, dramatize the change from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. Begin the service with the sanctuary stripped of paraments (except possibly the Good Friday black drapes). Briefly recall the events of Good Friday and sing "Were You There?" Then read the Easter Gospel for the day. Follow the reading immediately with a trumpet fanfare and an Easter hymn. During the hymn, have the Easter paraments and flowers carried in and arranged appropriately. (Adults may receive and arrange paraments brought in procession by older children.)
—Sunrise services that are outside, story-oriented, and brief can be the best Easter worship for children. If an Easter breakfast follows, instruct worshipers to greet one another with the traditional Easter greetings:
Greeting: Christ is risen!
Response: Christ is risen, indeed!
3. Ask a young trumpeter to play a simple fanfare for a responsive Call to Worship with the congregation:
FANFARE Christ is risen!
FANFARE This is the day the Lord has made!
FANFARE Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
Show the congregation a large beautifully decorated egg-shaped container. (This could be a stocking-container "egg" that has been decorated for Easter by an artistic adult.) Describe different ways we present Easter candy and gifts in egg-shaped packages. Range from the plastic eggs that contain jelly beans to the delicate jeweled eggs of the Russian czars.
Then open your egg to produce a small New Testament. Point out that the first Easter gift is the Easter story. Whether it is a great gift or a disappointment depends on what we do with it. Then proceed to tell how different people responded to the Easter story. Include some, like Temple priests, who ignored it or decided it was a lie, and others like Peter and Paul, who let it change their whole lives. Finally, ask worshipers of all ages what they are going to do with their gift.